My wife, Julie, and I had the delightfully challenging task of raising six children, all of whom are now adults.
As one of our sons entered his teen years, he began to question everything we had taught him. We became his enemies, deceit became his friend, and our home became a battleground. His common refrain became, “When I’m 18, I’m out of here!”
As I saw the direction he was headed in, I reconsidered our goals as parents. Before he left home, we wanted him to be able to think for himself, to need our counsel less and less, and to give him greater freedom to make his own choices. But that approach only reinforced his pride and rebellion.
Not surprisingly, that’s the message of our culture. We should raise our kids to be independent, self-thinkers, do-it-yourselfers. We celebrate the first time they notice their car is almost out of gas and fill it up. We’re stunned when they decide on their own not to venture out with a group of morally questionable friends. We look forward to the day when they learn how to open a checking account, pay a bill, and register for a class, all by themselves.
All of those can be evidences of maturity. But none of them is necessarily rooted in the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). If independent thinking is the only thing we’re looking for in our kids, we may be missing one of the most important aspects of what it means to be mature: humility.
More Dependent, Not Less
It was around that time I began to consider the adults I respected. They didn’t do things on their own. They frequently asked others about their decisions, their actions, and their hearts. Instead of living secret lives, they freely volunteered temptations they were struggling with, areas they had fallen, and questions they were wrestling through.
Then it hit me. The most mature people in my life were not those who belittled the input and counsel of those around them, but those who welcomed and even pursued it. Their awareness of their weaknesses caused them to seek out other eyes and perspectives.
That realization shed new light on our parenting goals. If we want to prepare our kids to live on their own, we should prepare them to recognize they need help — from God and from those he places around them.
Maturity, Biblically Defined
Due to the deceptive nature of indwelling sin, we never get beyond needing others. And the more aware we are of that truth, the more mature we are. So we came to learn that mature teens (and adults) are marked by at least three characteristics.
1. They pursue self-disclosure.
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)
It might be cool for a teen’s parents not to know the password on his computer or the passcode for his phone, but it’s certainly not wise. That’s because, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). So a mature teen shares his temptations, conversations, and viewpoints with his parents without having to be pried open. He doesn’t seek to isolate himself, but pursues the eyes and input of those who care about his soul. He regularly opens the door to his heart before his parents even ring the bell.
2. They welcome correction.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1; see also Proverbs 15:32)
The Bible tells us only fools hate reproof. A mature young adult will listen when corrected, knowing there will always be sins to see more clearly, consequences they didn’t intend, and opportunities to be more like Christ. The more mature my teen is, the less he’ll justify, rationalize, and excuse his actions, or respond in anger or defensiveness when questioned or corrected.
3. They seek out input.
Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:3–5)
Welcoming correction is one thing. Running after it is another. Our kids will always need help, and it’s humility to seek it — first from God’s word, but secondarily from parents, wise friends, pastors, and others they respect. That’s why, as our kids got older, we encouraged them to ask for wisdom, not permission. If they were going to live independently, we wanted to do more than give them “yes” or “no” answers. We wanted them to learn to process decisions through a biblical lens.
These three characteristics of maturity are the natural effect of believing the gospel, which our son eventually did, by God’s grace. They enabled us to establish, in the words of Tedd Tripp, “well-worn paths to the cross.” Those who trust that Jesus died for their sins, enduring the wrath of God as their substitute, no longer have anything to boast in but the cross. They understand the danger, deceit, and destructive power of sin and their inability to fight it on their own. So they open themselves up to others, welcome feedback, and ask a lot of questions.
Defining maturity biblically for our kids made the transition to adulthood much smoother. When they left home it wasn’t an act of independence or breaking free. It was the fruit of finally understanding how untrustworthy their hearts were.
And at that point, we knew they were mature enough to send them out on their own — not because they were self-sufficient, but because they had embraced their need for the help of others and knew they had a Savior who would never fail them.